THE EVENTS that would deal Macondo its fatal blow were just showing themselves when they brought Meme Buend?a’s son home. The public situation was so uncertain then that no one had sufficient spirit to become involved with private scandals, so that Fernanda was able to count on an atmosphere that enabled her to keep the child hidden as if he had never existed. She had to take him in because the circumstances under which they brought him made rejection impossible. She had to tolerate him against her will for the rest of her life because at the moment of truth she lacked the courage to go through with her inner determination to drown him in the bathroom cistern. She locked him up in Colonel Aureliano Buend?a’s old workshop. She succeeded in convincing Santa Sof?a de la Piedad that she had found him floating in a basket. ?rsula would die without ever knowing his origin. Little Amaranta ?rsula, who went into the workshop once when Fernanda was feeding the child, also believed the version of the floating basket. Aureliano Segundo, having broken finally with his wife because of the irrational way in which she handled Meme’s tragedy, did not know of the existence of his grandson until three years after they brought him home, when the child escaped from captivity through an oversight on Fernanda’s part and appeared on the porch for a fraction of a second, naked, with matted hair, and with an impressive sex organ that was like a turkey’s wattles, as if he were not a human child but the encyclopedia definition of a cannibal.
Fernanda had not counted on that nasty trick of her incorrigible fate. The child was like the return of a shame that she had thought exiled by her from the house forever. As soon as they carried off Mauricio Babilonia with his shattered spinal column, Fernanda had worked out the most minute details of a plan destined to wipe out all traces of the burden. Without consulting her husband, she packed her bags, put the three changes of clothing that her daughter would need into a small suitcase, and went to get her in her bedroom a half hour before the train arrived.
“Let’s go, Renata,” she told her.
She gave no explanation. Meme, for her part, did not expect or want any. She not only did not know where they were going, but it would have been the same to her if they had been taking her to the slaughterhouse. She had not spoken again nor would she do so for the rest of her life from the time that she heard the shot in the backyard and the simultaneous cry of pain from Mauricio Babilonia. When her mother ordered her out of the bedroom she did not comb her hair or wash her face and she got into the train as if she were walking in her sleep, not even noticing the yellow butterflies that were still accompanying her. Fernanda never found out nor did she take the trouble to, whether that stony silence was a determination of her will or whether she had become mute because of the impact of the tragedy. Meme barely took notice of the journey through the formerly enchanted region. She did not see the shady, endless banana groves on both sides of the tracks. She did not see the white houses of the gringos or their gardens, dried out by dust and heat, or the women in shorts and blue-striped shirts playing cards on the terraces. She did not see the oxcarts on the dusty roads loaded down with bunches of bananas. She did not see the girls diving into the transparent rivers like tarpons, leaving the passengers on the train with the bitterness of their splendid breasts, or the miserable huts of the workers all huddled together where Mauricio Babilonia’s yellow butterflies fluttered about and in the doorways of which there were green and squalid children sitting on their pots, and pregnant women who shouted insults at the train. That fleeting vision, which had been a celebration for her when she came home from school, passed through Meme’s heart without a quiver. She did not look out of the window, not even when the burning dampness of the groves ended and the train went through a poppy-laden plain where the carbonized skeleton of the Spanish galleon still sat and then came out into the dear air alongside the frothy, dirty sea where almost a century before Jos? Arcadio Buend?a’s illusions had met defeat.
At five o’clock in the afternoon, when they had come to the last station in the swamp, she got out of the train because Fernanda made her. They got into a small carriage that looked like an enormous bat, drawn by an asthmatic horse, and they went through the desolate city in the endless streets of which, split by saltiness, there was the sound of a piano lesson just like the one that Fernanda heard during the siestas of her adolescence. They went on board a riverboat, the wooden wheel of which had a sound of conflagration, and whose rusted metal plates reverberated like the mouth of an oven. Meme shut herself up in her cabin. Twice a day Fernanda left a plate of food by her bed and twice a day she took it away intact, not because Meme had resolved to die of hunger, but because even the smell of food was repugnant to her and her stomach rejected even water. Not even she herself knew that her fertility had outwitted the mustard vapors, just as Fernanda did not know until almost a year later, when they brought the child. In the suffocating cabin, maddened by the vibration of the metal plates and the unbearable stench of the mud stirred up by the paddle wheel, Meme lost track of the days. Much time had passed when she saw the last yellow butterfly destroyed in the blades of the fan and she admitted as an irremediable truth that Mauricio Babilonia had died. She did not let herself be defeated by resignation, however. She kept on thinking about him during the arduous muleback crossing of the hallucinating plateau where Aureliano Segundo had become lost when he was looking for the most beautiful woman who had ever appeared on the face of the earth, and when they went over the mountains along Indian trails and entered the gloomy city in whose stone alleys the funereal bronze bells of thirty-two churches tolled. That night they slept in the abandoned colonial mansion on boards that Fernanda laid on the floor of a room invaded by weeds, wrapped in the shreds of curtains that they pulled off the windows and that fell to pieces with every turn of the body. Meme knew where they were because in the flight of her insomnia she saw pass by the gentleman dressed in black whom they delivered to the house inside a lead box on one distant Christmas Eve. On the following day, after mass, Fernanda took her to a somber building that Meme recognized immediately from her mother’s stories of the convent where they had raised her to be a queen, and then she understood that they had come to the end of the journey. While Fernanda was speaking to someone in the office next door, Meme remained in a parlor checkered with large oil paintings of colonial archbishops, still wearing an etamine dress with small black flowers and stiff high shoes which were swollen by the cold of the uplands. She was standing in the center of the parlor thinking about Mauricio Babilonia under the yellow stream of light from the stained glass windows when a very beautiful novice came out of the office carrying her suitcase with the three changes of clothing. As she passed Meme she took her hand without stopping.
“Come, Renata,” she said to her.
Meme took her hand and let herself be led. The last time that Fernanda saw her, trying to keep up with the novice, the iron grating of the cloister had just closed behind her. She was still thinking about Mauricio Babilonia, his smell of grease, and his halo of butterflies, and she would keep on thinking about him for all the days of her life until the remote autumn morning when she died of old age, with her name changed and her head shaved and without ever having spoken a word, in a gloomy hospital in Cracow.
Fernanda returned to Macondo on a train protected by armed police. During the trip she noticed the tension of the passengers, the military preparations in the towns along the line, and an atmosphere rarified by the certainty that something serious was going to happen, but she had no information until she reached Macondo and they told her that Jos? Arcadio Segundo was inciting the workers of the banana company to strike. “That’s all we need,” Fernanda said to herself. “An anarchist in the family.” The strike broke out two weeks later and it did not have the dramatic consequences that had been feared. The workers demanded that they not be obliged to cut and load bananas on Sundays, and the position seemed so just that even Father Antonio Isabel interceded in its favor because he found it in accordance with the laws of God. That victory, along with other actions that were initiated during the following months, drew the colorless Jos? Arcadio Segundo out of his anonymity, for people had been accustomed to say that he was only good for filling up the town with French whores. With the same impulsive decision with which he had auctioned off his fighting cocks in order to organize a harebrained boat business, he gave up his position as foreman in the banana company and took the side of the workers. Quite soon he was pointed out as the agent of an international conspiracy against public order. One night, during the course of a week darkened by somber rumors, he miraculously escaped four revolver shots taken at him by an unknown party as he was leaving a secret meeting. The atmosphere of the following months was so tense that even ?rsula perceived it in her dark corner, and she had the impression that once more she was living through the dangerous times when her son Aureliano carried the homeopathic pills of subversion in his pocket. She tried to speak to Jos? Arcadio Segundo, to let him know about that precedent, but Aureliano Segundo told her that since the night of the attempt on his life no one knew his whereabouts.
“Just like Aureliano,” ?rsula exclaimed. “It’s as if the world were repeating itself.”
Fernanda, was immune to the uncertainty of those days. She had no contact with the outside world since the violent altercation she had had with her husband over her having decided Memes fate without his consent. Aureliano Segundo was prepared to rescue his daughter with the help of the police if necessary, but Fernanda showed him some papers that were proof that she had entered the convent of her own free will. Meme had indeed signed once she was already behind the iron grating and she did it with the same indifference with which she had allowed herself to be led away. Underneath it all, Aureliano Segundo did not believe in the legitimacy of the proof. Just as he never believed that Mauricio Babilonia had gone into the yard to steal chickens, but both expedients served to ease his conscience, and thus he could go back without remorse under the shadow of Petra Cotes, where he revived his noisy revelry and unlimited gourmandizing. Foreign to the restlessness of the town, deaf to ?rsula’s quiet predictions. Fernanda gave the last tam to the screw of her preconceived plan. She wrote a long letter to her son Jos? Arcadio, who was then about to take his first orders, and in it she told him that his sister Renata had expired in the peace of the Lord and as a consequence of the black vomit. Then she put Amaranta ?rsula under the care of Santa Sof?a de la Piedad and dedicated herself to organizing her correspondence with the invisible doctors, which had been upset by Meme’s trouble. The first thing that she did was to set a definite date for the postponed telepathic operation. But the invisible doctors answered her that it was not wise so long as the state of social agitation continued in Macondo. She was so urgent and so poorly Informed that she explained to them In another letter that there was no such state of agitation and that everything was the result of the lunacy of a brother-in-law of hers who was fiddling around at that time in that labor union nonsense just as he had been involved with cockfighting and riverboats before. They were still not in agreement on the hot Wednesday when an aged nun knocked at the door bearing a small basket on her arm. When she opened the door Santa Sof?a de la Piedad thought that it was a gift and tried to take the small basket that was covered with a lovely lace wrap. But the nun stopped her because she had instructions to give it personally and with the strictest secrecy to Do?a Fernanda del Carpio de Buend?a. It was Meme’s son. Fernanda’s former spiritual director explained to her in a letter that he had been born two months before and that they had taken the privilege of baptizing him Aureliano, for his grandfather, because his mother would not open her lips to tell them her wishes. Fernanda rose up inside against that trick of fate, but she had sufficient strength to hide it in front of the nun.
“We’ll tell them that we found him floating in the basket,” she said smiling.
“No one will believe it,” the nun said.
“If they believe it in the Bible,” Fernanda replied, “I don’t see why they shouldn’t believe it from me.”
The nun lunched at the house while she waited for the train back, and in accordance with the discretion they asked of her, she did not mention the child again, but Fernanda viewed her as an undesirable witness of her shame and lamented the fact that they had abandoned the medieval custom of hanging a messenger who bore bad news. It was then that she decided to drown the child in the cistern as soon as the nun left, but her heart was not strong enough and she preferred to wait patiently until the infinite goodness of God would free her from the annoyance.
The new Aureliano was a year old when the tension of the people broke with no forewarning. Jos? Arcadio Segundo and other union leaders who had remained underground until then suddenly appeared one weekend and organized demonstrations in towns throughout the banana region. The police merely maintained public order. But on Monday night the leaders were taken from their homes and sent to jail in the capital of the province with two-pound irons on their legs. Taken among them were Jos? Arcadio Segundo and Lorenzo Gavil?n, a colonel in the Mexican revolution, exiled in Macondo, who said that he had been witness to the heroism of his comrade Artemio Cruz. They were set free, however, within three months because of the fact that the government and the banana company could not reach an agreement as to who should feed them in jail. The protests of the workers this time were based on the lack of sanitary facilities in their living quarters, the nonexistence of medical services, and terrible working conditions. They stated, furthermore, that they were not being paid in real money but in scrip, which was good only to buy Virginia ham in the company commissaries. Jos? Arcadio Segundo was put in jail because he revealed that the scrip system was a way for the company to finance its fruit ships; which without the commissary merchandise would have to return empty from New Orleans to the banana ports. The other complaints were common knowledge. The company physicians did not examine the sick but had them line up behind one another in the dispensaries and a nurse would put a pill the color of copper sulfate on their tongues, whether they had malaria, gonorrhea, or constipation. It was a cure that was so common that children would stand in line several times and instead of swallowing the pills would take them home to use as bingo markers. The company workers were crowded together in miserable barracks. The engineers, instead of putting in toilets, had a portable latrine for every fifty people brought to the camps at Christmas time and they held public demonstrations of how to use them so that they would last longer. The decrepit lawyers dressed in black who during other times had besieged Colonel Aureliano Buend?a and who now were controlled by the banana company dismissed those demands with decisions that seemed like acts of magic. When the workers drew up a list of unanimous petitions, a long time passed before they were able to notify the banana company officially. As soon as he found out about the agreement Mr. Brown hitched his luxurious glassed-in coach to the train and disappeared from Macondo along with the more prominent representatives of his company. Nonetheless some workers found one of them the following Saturday in a brothel and they made him sign a copy of the sheet with the demands while he was naked with the women who had helped to entrap him. The mournful lawyers showed in court that that man had nothing to do with the company and in order that no one doubt their arguments they had him jailed as an impostor. Later on, Mr. Brown was surprised traveling incognito, in a third-class coach and they made him sign another copy of the demands. On the following day he appeared before the judges with his hair dyed black and speaking flawless Spanish. The lawyers showed that the man was not Mr. Jack Brown, the superintendent of the banana company, born in Prattville Alabama, but a harmless vendor of medicinal plants, born in Macondo and baptized there with the name of Dagoberto Fonseca. A while later, faced with a new attempt by the workers the lawyers publicly exhibited Mr. Brown’s death certificate, attested to by consuls and foreign ministers which bore witness that on June ninth last he had been run over by a fire engine in Chicago. Tired of that hermeneutical delirium, the workers turned away from the authorities in Macondo and brought their complaints up to the higher courts. It was there that the sleight-of-hand lawyers proved that the demands lacked all validity for the simple reason that the banana company did not have, never had had, and never would have any workers in its service because they were all hired on a temporary and occasional basis. So that the fable of the Virginia ham was nonsense, the same as that of the miraculous pills and the Yuletide toilets, and by a decision of the court it was established and set down in solemn decrees that the workers did not exist.
The great strike broke out. Cultivation stopped halfway, the fruit rotted on the trees and the hundred-twenty-car trains remained on the sidings. The idle workers overflowed the towns. The Street of the Turks echoed with a Saturday that lasted for several days and in the poolroom at the Hotel Jacob they had to arrange twenty-four-hour shifts. That was where Jos? Arcadio Segundo was on the day it was announced that the army had been assigned to reestablish public order. Although he was not a man given to omens, the news was like an announcement of death that he had been waiting for ever since that distant morning when Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez had let him see an execution. The bad omen did not change his solemnity, however. He took the shot he had planned and it was good. A short time later the drumbeats, the shrill of the bugle, the shouting and running of the people told him that not only had the game of pool come to an end, but also the silent and solitary game that he had been playing with himself ever since that dawn execution. Then he went out into the street and saw them. There were three regiments, whose march in time to a galley drum made the earth tremble. Their snorting of a many-headed dragon filled the glow of noon with a pestilential vapor. They were short, stocky, and brutelike. They perspired with the sweat of a horse and had a smell of suntanned hide and the taciturn and impenetrable perseverance of men from the uplands. Although it took them over an hour to pass by, one might have thought that they were only a few squads marching in a circle, because they were all identical, sons of the same bitch, and with the same stolidity they all bore the weight of their packs and canteens, the shame of their rifles with fixed bayonets, and the chancre of blind obedience and a sense of honor. ?rsula heard them pass from her bed in the shadows and she made a crow with her fingers. Santa Sof?a de la Piedad existed for an instant, leaning over the embroidered tablecloth that she had just ironed, and she thought of her son, Jos? Arcadio Segundo, who without changing expression watched the last soldiers pass by the door of the Hotel Jacob.
Martial law enabled the army to assume the functions of arbitrator in the controversy, but no effort at conciliation was made. As soon as they appeared in Macondo, the soldiers put aside their rifles and cut and loaded the bananas and started the trains running. The workers, who had been content to wait until then, went into the woods with no other weapons but their working machetes and they began to sabotage the sabotage. They burned plantations and commissaries, tore up tracks to impede the passage of the trains that began to open their path with machine-gun fire, and they cut telegraph and telephone wires. The irrigation ditches were stained with blood. Mr. Brown, who was alive in the electrified chicken coop, was taken out of Macondo with his family and those of his fellow countrymen and brought to a safe place under the protection of the army. The situation was threatening to lead to a bloody and unequal civil war when the authorities called upon the workers to gather in Macondo. The summons announced that the civil and military leader of the province would arrive on the following Friday ready to intercede in the conflict.
Jos? Arcadio Segundo was in the crowd that had gathered at the station on Friday since early in the morning. He had taken part in a meeting of union leaders and had been commissioned, along with Colonel Gavil?n, to mingle in the crowd and orient it according to how things went. He did not feel well and a salty paste was beginning to collect on his palate when he noticed that the army had set up machine-gun emplacements around the small square and that the wired city of the banana company was protected by artillery pieces. Around twelve o’clock, waiting for a train that was not arriving, more than three thousand people, workers, women, and children, had spilled out of the open space in front of the station and were pressing into the neighboring streets, which the army had closed off with rows of machine guns. At that time it all seemed more like a jubilant fair than a waiting crowd. They had brought over the fritter and drink stands from the Street of the Turks and the people were in good spirits as they bore the tedium of waiting and the scorching sun. A short time before three o’clock the rumor spread that the official train would not arrive until the following day. The crowd let out a sigh of disappointment. An army lieutenant then climbed up onto the roof of the station where there were four machine-gun emplacements aiming at the crowd and called for silence. Next to Jos? Arcadio Segundo there was a barefooted woman, very fat, with two children between the ages of four and seven. She was carrying the smaller one and she asked Jos? Arcadio Segundo, without knowing him, if he would lift up the other one so that he could hear better. Jos? Arcadio Segundo put the child on his shoulders. Many years later that child would still tell, to the disbelief of all, that he had seen the lieutenant reading Decree No. 4 of the civil and military leader of the province through an old phonograph horn. It had been signed by General Carlos Cortes Vargas and his secretary, Major Enrique Garc?a Isaza, and in three articles of eighty words he declared the strikers to be a “bunch of hoodlums” and he authorized the army to shoot to kill.
After the decree was read, in the midst of a deafening hoot of protest, a captain took the place of the lieutenant on the roof of the station and with the horn he signaled that he wanted to speak. The crowd was quiet again.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the captain said in a low voice that was slow and a little tired. “you have five minutes to withdraw.”
The redoubled hooting and shouting drowned out the bugle call that announced the start of the count. No one moved.
Five minutes have passed,” the captain said in the same tone. “One more minute and we’ll open fire.”
Jos? Arcadio Segundo, sweating ice, lowered the child and gave him to the woman. “Those bastards might just shoot,” she murmured. Jos? Arcadio Segundo did not have time to speak because at that instant he recognized the hoarse voice of Colonel Gavil?n echoing the words of the woman with a shout. Intoxicated by the tension, by the miraculous depth of the silence, and furthermore convinced that nothing could move that crowd held tight in a fascination with death, Jos? Arcadio Segundo raised himself up over the heads in front of him and for the first time in his life he raised his voice.
“You bastards!” he shouted. “Take the extra minute and stick it up your ass!”
After his shout something happened that did not bring on fright but a kind of hallucination. The captain gave the order to fire and fourteen machine guns answered at once. But it all seemed like a farce. It was as if the machine guns had been loaded with caps, because their panting rattle could be heard and their incandescent spitting could be seen, but not the slightest reaction was perceived, not a cry, not even a sigh among the compact crowd that seemed petrified by an instantaneous invulnerability. Suddenly, on one side-of the station, a cry of death tore open the enchantment: “Aaaagh, Mother.” A seismic voice, a volcanic breath. the roar of a cataclysm broke out in the center of the crowd with a great potential of expansion. Jos? Arcadio Segundo barely had time to pick up the child while the mother with the other one was swallowed up by the crowd that swirled about in panic.
Many years later that child would still tell, in spite of people thinking that he was a crazy old man, how Jos? Arcadio Segundo had lifted him over his head and hauled him, almost in the air, as if floating on the terror of the crowd, toward a nearby street. The child’s privileged position allowed him to see at that moment that the wild mass was starting to get to the corner and the row of machine guns opened fire. Several voices shouted at the same time:
“Get down! Get down!”
The people in front had already done so, swept down by the wave of bullets. The survivors, instead of getting down, tried to go back to the small square, and the panic became a dragon’s tail as one compact wave ran against another which was moving in the opposite direction, toward the other dragon’s tail In the street across the way, where the machine guns were also firing without cease. They were Penned in. swirling about in a gigantic whirlwind that little by little was being reduced to its epicenter as the edges were systematically being cut off all around like an onion being peeled by the insatiable and methodical shears of the machine guns. The child saw a woman kneeling with her arms in the shape of a cross in an open space, mysteriously free of the stampede. Jos? Arcadio Segundo put him up there at the moment he fell with his face bathed in blood, before the colossal troop wiped out the empty space, the kneeling woman, the light of the high, drought-stricken sky, and the whorish world where ?rsula Iguar?n had sold so many little candy animals.
When Jos? Arcadio Segundo came to he was lying face up in the darkness. He realized that he was riding on an endless and silent train and that his head was caked with dry blood and that all his bones ached. He felt an intolerable desire to sleep. Prepared to sleep for many hours, safe from the terror and the horror, he made himself comfortable on the side that pained him less, and only then did he discover that he was lying against dead people. There was no free space in the car except for an aisle in the middle. Several hours must have passed since the massacre because the corpses had the same temperature as a plaster in autumn and the same consistency of petrified foam that it had, and those who had put them in the car had had time to pile them up in the same way in which they transported bunches of bananas. Trying to flee from the nightmare, Jos? Arcadio Segundo dragged himself from one car to an other in the direction in which the train was heading, and in the flashes of light that broke through the wooden slats as they went through sleeping towns he saw the man corpses, woman corpses, child corpses who would be thrown into the sea like rejected bananas. He recognized only a woman who sold drinks in the square and Colonel Gavil?n, who still held wrapped in his hand the belt with a buckle of Morelia silver with which he had tried to open his way through the panic. When he got to the first car he jumped into the darkness and lay beside the tracks until the train had passed. It was the longest one he had ever seen, with almost two hundred freight cars and a locomotive at either end and a third one in the middle. It had no lights, not even the red and green running lights, and it slipped off with a nocturnal and stealthy velocity. On top of the cars there could be seen the dark shapes of the soldiers with their emplaced machine guns.
After midnight a torrential cloudburst came up. Jos? Arcadio Segundo did not know where it was that he had jumped off, but he knew that by going in the opposite direction to that of the train he would reach Macondo. After walking for more than three hours, soaked to the skin, with a terrible headache, he was able to make out the first houses in the light of dawn. Attracted by the smell of coffee, he went into a kitchen where a woman with a child in her arms was leaning over the stove.
“Hello,” he said, exhausted. “I’m Jos? Arcadio Segundo Buend?a.”
He pronounced his whole name, letter by letter, in order to convince her that he was alive. He was wise in doing so, because the woman had thought that he was an apparition as she saw the dirty, shadowy figure with his head and clothing dirty with blood and touched with the solemnity of death come through the door. She recognized him. She brought him a blanket so that he could wrap himself up while his clothes dried by the fire, she warmed some water to wash his wound, which was only a flesh wound, and she gave him a clean diaper to bandage his head. Then she gave him a mug of coffee without sugar as she had been told the Buend?as drank it, and she spread his clothing out near the fire.
Jos? Arcadio Segundo did not speak until he had finished drinking his coffee.
“There must have been three thousand of them” he murmured.
“The dead,” he clarified. “It must have been an of the people who were at the station.”
The woman measured him with a pitying look. “There haven’t been any dead here,” she said. “Since the time of your uncle, the colonel, nothing has happened in Macondo.” In the three kitchens where Jos? Arcadio Segundo stopped before reaching home they told him the same thing. “There weren’t any dead. He went through the small square by the station and he saw the fritter stands piled one on top of the other and he could find no trace of the massacre. The streets were deserted under the persistent rain and the houses locked up with no trace of life inside. The only human note was the first tolling of the bells for mass. He knocked at the door at Colonel Gavil?n’s house. A pregnant woman whom he had seen several times closed the door in his face. “He left,” she said, frightened. “He went back to his own country.” The main entrance to the wire chicken coop was guarded as always by two local policemen who looked as if they were made of stone under the rain, with raincoats and rubber boots. On their marginal street the West Indian Negroes were singing Saturday psalms. Jos? Arcadio Segundo jumped over the courtyard wall and entered the house through the kitchen. Santa Sof?a de la Piedad barely raised her voice. “Don’t let Fernanda see you,” she said. “She’s just getting up.” As if she were fulfilling an implicit pact, she took her son to the “chamberpot room.” arranged Melqu?ades’ broken-down cot for him and at two in the afternoon, while Fernanda was taking her siesta, she passed a plate of food in to him through the window.
Aureliano Segundo had slept at home because the rain had caught him time and at three in the afternoon he was still waiting for it to clear. Informed in secret by Santa Sof?a de la Piedad, he visited his brother in Melqu?ades’ room at that time. He did not believe the version of the massacre or the nightmare trip of the train loaded with corpses traveling toward the sea either. The night before he had read an extraordinary proclamation to the nation which said that the workers had left the station and had returned home in peaceful groups. The proclamation also stated that the union leaders, with great patriotic spirit, had reduced their demands to two points: a reform of medical services and the building of latrines in the living quarters. It was stated later that when the military authorities obtained the agreement with the workers, they hastened to tell Mr. Brown and he not only accepted the new conditions but offered to pay for three days of public festivities to celebrate the end of the conflict. Except that when the military asked him on what date they could announce the signing of the agreement, he looked out the window at the sky crossed with lightning flashes and made a profound gesture of doubt.
“When the rain stops,” he said. “As long as the rain lasts we’re suspending all activities.”
It had not rained for three months and there had been a drought. But when Mr. Brown announced his decision a torrential downpour spread over the whole banana region. It was the one that caught Jos? Arcadio Segundo on his way to Macondo. A week later it was still raining. The official version, repeated a thousand times and mangled out all over the country by every means of communication the government found at hand, was finally accepted: there were no dead, the satisfied workers had gone back to their families, and the banana company was suspending all activity until the rains stopped. Martial law continued with an eye to the necessity of taking emergency measures for the public disaster of the endless downpour, but the troops were confined to quarters. During the day the soldiers walked through the torrents in the streets with their pant legs rolled up, playing with boats with the children. At night after taps, they knocked doors down with their rifle butts, hauled suspects out of their beds, and took them off on trips from which there was no return. The search for and extermination of the hoodlums, murderers, arsonists, and rebels of Decree No. 4 was still going on, but the military denied it even to the relatives of the victims who crowded the commandant’s offices in search of news. “You must have been dreaming,” the officers insisted. “Nothing has happened in Macondo, nothing has ever happened, and nothing ever will happen. “This is a happy town.” In that way they were finally able to wipe out the union leaders.
The only survivor was Jos? Arcadio Segundo. One February night the unmistakable blows of rifle butts were heard at the door. Aureliano Segundo, who was still waiting for it to clear, opened the door to six soldiers under the command of an officer. Soaking from the rain, without saying a word, they searched the house room by room, closet by closet, from parlor to pantry. ?rsula woke up when they turned on the light in her room and she did not breathe while the march went on but held her fingers in the shape of a cross, pointing them to where the soldiers were moving about. Santa Sof?a de la Piedad managed to warn Jos? Arcadio Segundo, who was sleeping in Melqu?ades’ room, but he could see that it was too late to try to escape. So Santa Sof?a de la Piedad locked the door again and he put on his shirt and his shoes and sat down on the cot to wait for them. At that moment they were searching the gold workshop. The officer made them open the padlock and with a quick sweep of his lantern he saw the workbench and the glass cupboard with bottles of acid and instruments that were still where their owner had left them and he seemed to understand that no one lived in that room. He wisely asked Aureliano Segundo if he was a silversmith, however, and the latter explained to him that it had been Colonel Aureliano Buend?a’s workshop. “Oho,” the officer said, turned on the lights, and ordered such a minute search that they did not miss the eighteen little gold fishes that had not been melted down and that were hidden behind the bottles Is their tin can. The officer examined them one by one on the workbench and then he turned human. “I’d like to take one, if I may,” he said. “At one time they were a mark of subversion, but now they’re relics.” He was young, almost an adolescent, with no sign of timidity and with a natural pleasant manner that had not shown itself until then. Aureliano Segundo gave him the little fish. The officer put it in his shirt pocket with a childlike glow in his eyes and he put the others back in the can and set it back where it had been.
“It’s a wonderful memento,” he said. “Colonel Aureliano Buend?a was one of our greatest men.”
Nevertheless, that surge of humanity did not alter his professional conduct. At Melqu?ades’ room, which was locked up again with the padlock, Santa Sof?a de la Piedad tried one last hope. “No one has lived in that room for a century,” she said. The officer had it opened and flashed the beam of the lantern over it, and Aureliano Segundo and Santa Sof?a de la Piedad saw the Arab eyes of Jos? Arcadio Segundo at the moment when the ray of light passed over his face and they understood that it was the end of one anxiety and the beginning of another which would find relief only in resignation. But the officer continued examining the room with the lantern and showed no sign of interest until he discovered the seventy-two chamberpots piled up in the cupboards. Then he turned on the light. Jos? Arcadio Segundo was sitting on the edge of the cot, ready to go, more solemn and pensive than ever. In the background were the shelves with the shredded books, the rolls of parchment, and the clean and orderly worktable with the ink still fresh in the inkwells. There was the same pureness in the air, the same clarity, the same respite from dust and destruction that Aureliano Segundo had known in childhood and that only Colonel Aureliano Buend?a could not perceive. But the officer was only interested in the chamberpots.
“How many people live in this house?’ he asked.
The officer obviously did not understand. He paused with his glance on the space where Aureliano Segundo and Santa Soft de la Piedad were still seeing Jos? Arcadio Segundo and the latter also realized that the soldier was looking at him without seeing him. Then he turned out the light and closed the door. When he spoke to the soldiers, Aureliano, Segundo understood that the young officer had seen the room with the same eyes as Colonel Aureliano Buend?a.
“It’s obvious that no one has been in that room for at least a hundred years.” the officer said to the soldiers. “There must even be snakes in there.”
When the door closed, Jos? Arcadio Segundo was sure that the war was over. Years before Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had spoken to him about the fascination of war and had tried to show it to him with countless examples drawn from his own experience. He had believed him. But the night when the soldiers looked at him without seeing him while he thought about the tension of the past few months, the misery of jail, the panic at the station, and the train loaded with dead people, Jos? Arcadio Segundo reached the conclusion that Colonel Aureliano Buend?a was nothing but a faker or an imbecile. He could not understand why he had needed so many words to explain what he felt in war because one was enough: fear. In Melqu?ades’ room, on the other hand, protected by the supernatural light, by the sound of the rain, by the feeling of being invisible, he found the repose that he had not had for one single instant during his previous life, and the only fear that remained was that they would bury him alive. He told Santa Sof?a de la Piedad about it when she brought him his daily meals and she promised to struggle to stay alive even beyond her natural forces in order to make sure that they would bury him dead. Free from all fear, Jos? Arcadio Segundo dedicated himself then to peruse the manuscripts of Melqu?ades many times, and with so much more pleasure when he could not understand them. He became accustomed to the sound of the rain, which after two months had become another form of silence, and the only thing that disturbed his solitude was the coming and going of Santa Sof?a de la Piedad. He asked her, therefore, to leave the meals on the windowsill and padlock the door. The rest of the family forgot about him including Fernanda, who did not mind leaving him there when she found that the soldiers had seen him without recognizing him. After six months of enclosure, since the soldiers had left Macondo Aureliano Segundo removed the padlock, looking for someone he could talk to until the rain stopped. As soon as he opened the door he felt the pestilential attack of the chamberpots, which were placed on the floor and all of which had been used several times. Jos? Arcadio Segundo, devoured by baldness, indifferent to the air that had been sharpened by the nauseating vapors, was still reading and rereading the unintelligible parchments. He was illuminated by a seraphic glow. He scarcely raised his eyes when he heard the door open, but that look was enough for his brother to see repeated in it the irreparable fate of his great-grandfather.
“There were more than three thousand of them,” was all that Jos? Arcadio Segundo said. “I’m sure now that they were everybody who had been at the station.”